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Earth Day:  Recognizing Mother Earth

by Jeremy Allen

ecology_flag_b 200.gifSenator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was the founder of Earth Day.  Earth Day was created to bring the environmental agenda to the forefront of the American political machine.  He came to this decision after he took a trip to Santa Barbara, California in 1969.  There had been an oil spill off the coast and it bothered him enough that he decided to do something about it.  He called for a teach-in to be held on April 22, 1970.  It was to be held on every college campus in the U.S.  The teach-in was modeled after the Vietnam teach-ins that were popular at that time.

Over 20 million people participated on the first Earth Day.  It has grown every year and now over 500 million people participate in over 175 countries.  Earth Day is celebrated during the mid-spring equinox in the northern hemisphere and in the mid-fall equinox in the southern hemisphere.  There is now an Earth Day Network.  It was taken internationally in 1990 by Denis Hayes.  Denis Hayes was the first national coordinator in 1970.

World Environment Day, an offshoot of Earth Day, is celebrated on June 5 every year by every nation on earth.  Senator Nelson said, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level.  We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated.  That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself."

The name Earth Day was suggested by a number of people in Autumn of 1969.  A friend of the Senator, Julian Koenig, came up with the name.  Julian Koenig was in the field of public relations and a New York advertising executive.  April 22 was his birthday and Earth Day rhymed with birthday.  It is said that the rhyme made the name come to him easily.  Senator Nelson kept calling it National Environment Teach-In but the press unanimously called it Earth Day so it stuck.  Koenig was also on Nelson’s organizing committee in 1969.

Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist.  She was a featured writer and speaker in the 1960s and 1970s.  In 1978, she said, “Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space."

{sidebar id=1}Earth Day draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way – which is also the most ancient way – by using the vernal Equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making the length of night and day equal in all parts of the Earth.  To this point in the annual calendar, Earth Day attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another.  But the selection of the March Equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible, and a flag which shows the Earth, as seen from space, appropriate.

Pictured above is the Earth Day Ecology Flag.  It was designed in 1969 by Ron Cobb.  Cobb was a cartoonist.  It was published in November, 1969 in the Los Angeles Free press and then went public after that.  The yellow symbol in the middle is a combination of the letters “E” and “O”.  The “E” stand for environment and the “O” stands for organism.  The symbol is also a theta, a Greek alphabet letter.  The theta is generally used as a warning symbol or a peace symbol.  Either one would work for this movement.  The first flag was made by a high school student named Betsy Vogel.  She wanted to display this flag at her high school but was denied permission.  She then went to the Louisiana legislature and got permission to fly her flag just in time for Earth Day.

In conclusion, Earth Day was started and continued by people concerned about the environment and the destruction of our earth.  This movement is still popular today because environmental concerns bother us all.  Recycling and other “green” actions can make a difference.  Even picking up one soda can on the sidewalk can make all the difference.  If everyone did their part, our environment would remain intact.

This article originally published on April 26, 2010.

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